The cynic in me—combined with Dave Gibbons doing the art, the protagonist sergeant not getting a name until the finish, and the soldiers being in Easy Company—makes me wonder if Screaming Eagles didn’t start as a Sgt. Rock special. At least at some level. It’d be Sgt. Rock Gone Wild, so maybe it didn’t last long as one, but….
The issue’s the least of the three War Story entries so far, mostly because of Gibbons. Dave Gibbons can draw, of course, but he doesn’t bring any personality to the comic. There’s technical prowess but not achievement. And he seems to miss drawing a balled-up fist when he really needed to draw a balled-up fist. But I guess no one is going to tell Dave Gibbons to do the panel over again. Not in 2002, not for a Vertigo special.
Screaming Eagles is set in Europe’s last days of the war. Before V-E Day, but individual German units are surrendering, and the officers feel comfortable sunbathing and letting the enlisted men haul the proverbial water. The Easy Company sergeant gets the order to secure a country house—behind enemy lines—for a general’s visit. He requests fresh men. His lieutenant tells him to take the three other original remaining members of Easy Company who landed before D-Day. Four out of 140. The sergeant would rather not. The lieutenant tells him to stop being such a wimp and goes back to his sunbath.
On the way, the men have an accident with a surrendering German general, who initially refuses to surrender to an enlisted man. The sergeant convinces him otherwise.
When they arrive at the house, they find it full of loot. The German generals have been stocking it with stolen cash, art, cars, food, and wine. Lots of wine.
Assessing the situation, the sergeant decides when they report back—days late—it’ll be because the Jeep was damaged, the radio broken, and they had to walk back behind enemy lines. The men are surprised their hard-nosed sergeant’s got a scheme, but he insists—they’re the last four of Easy Company, and they’re going to get a couple actual vacation days.
So they get drunk and eat well, with things looking up even more when one of the men meets a German farm girl thrilled at the idea of a (consensual) Roman orgy. She even has three friends who are down.
The soldiers enjoy the briefest respite before they have to return to the bullshit, punctuated with the sergeant finally having enough downtime to be verbose and monologue about what’s wrong with the military. Not even what’s wrong with the war (the Nazis need killing), just the bullshit of the rules and regulations designed to hide those responsible from accountability and so on. It’s a great monologue. It might even be more powerful from Sgt. Rock, and it’s enough to get Screaming Eagles through.
Writer Garth Ennis opens and closes with text set in the present, talking about an unnamed WWII veteran and how he’s coped. It’s Unforgiven to the point I expected the sergeant to look like Clint Eastwood, not Joe Rock. Unfortunately, Ennis tries too hard with the text, which doesn’t really matter since nothing he can do compares to Gibbons’s lack of personality on the art.
Screaming Eagles gets an unenthusiastic pass; it ought to be a lot better. Though also maybe not; cut out the seriousness and the sergeant’s splash page flashbacks to his men dying, and it’s a sixties Army comedy. And no one was going to say (or maybe even realize) having Gibbons was working against the piece.
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